Bermuda Rejects Marriage Equality and Civil Unions in Invalid Referendum

Saurav Jung Thapa

The British Overseas Territory of Bermuda, a collection of small North Atlantic islands, held a non-binding referendum on marriage equality and same-sex civil unions on Thursday.

The Royal Gazette reported today that voters rejected both options by 69 percent and 63 percent, respectively. However, in a message to HRC Global, Tony Brannon of Same Love Bermuda said the results of the referendum are invalid as turnout did not meet the required 50 percent threshold.

Since the results are non-binding and the minimum voter turnout threshold was not met, the government will not be required to take action based on the results. But The Royal Gazette also reported earlier this week that Premier Michael Dunkley indicated the referendum results would guide elected officials as it would represent the “will of the people.”

Groups such as OUTBermuda have made it clear that regardless of the disappointing outcome of the referendum, the government has responsibilities and obligations to legally recognize and protect LGBTQ people and families.

Brannon also criticized the government decision to grant “charity status” to the opposition Preserve Marriage campaign, which allowed them to raise significant sums from U.S.-based anti-equality donors (who can claim tax exemptions on the donations).

"We join LGBTQ activists and human rights champions in Bermuda in expressing our shock and disappointment on the results of this referendum,” said Ty Cobb, Director of HRC Global. “Regardless of this unfortunate outcome, HRC remains committed to supporting efforts to extend marriage equality and full human rights protections to LGBTQ people in Bermuda."

Many activists and groups, such as OUTBermuda, have opposed the referendum on the grounds that it could curtail the rights of sexual and gender minorities. OUTBermuda and The Rainbow Alliance also criticized the $350,000 cost for taxpayers, arguing that the money would have been better spent on education and other purposes.  

While the results of yesterday’s referendum represent an unfortunate setback, Bermuda has made several advances on LGBTQ rights in recent years. Consensual sex between men was decriminalized in 1994, although the age of consent remains higher for same-sex couples. In June 2013, Bermuda banned discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, but the law did not include protections based on gender identity. An attempt to introduce marriage equality had been voted down in Parliament that same month.

Conservative anti-LGBTQ extremists from the United States, such as Brad Harrub, visited Bermuda in recent months attempting to foment anti-LGBTQ animus in advance of the referendum. Harrub speciously claimed that marriage equality could lead to the spread of paedophilia, bestiality and polygamy. He is part of a group of American extremists  working tirelessly to undercut LGBTQ people around the world.

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